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Helping English Language Learners Who Struggle in School

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By Linda Broatch, M.A.

Type 1 Difficulties: What Type of Learning Environment Helps ELL Students to be Successful?

There are several educational practices and conditions that researchers and experts consider important for all ELL students' learning and school achievement. These include:

  • The entire school staff is committed to improving student achievement and has high academic expectations for all students.
  • Curriculum that meets the state's academic standards for what children should know and be able to do at each grade level
  • Use of effective bilingual or English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) instruction
  • Support in the student's first language for learning academic content
  • Use of research-based instruction-especially in reading and math-in the child's general education classroom; and
  • Training for all teachers (not just bilingual and ESL teachers) in how to effectively teach ELL students
  • Use of achievement test results to identify students who are struggling, and to make a plan for helping them.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the school is responsible to provide parents information, in a language that parents understand, about the learning environment: This includes:

  • Whether the curriculum is research-based, especially in reading and math
  • Whether teachers are "highly qualified," as required by NCLB
  • The level of your child's skill in speaking English
  • What teaching method and program the school uses to teach your child English
  • How the English language instruction will help your child learn English and, at the same time, meet state academic standards
  • The requirements to finish the English language learning program and how long it will take to complete
  • How your child's achievement test scores compare to other students' in the school and district

Ask the principal for this information to be sure your child is making good progress in English language learning and academic work-and that the learning environment supports your child's success.

Linda Broatch has worked for many years in nonprofit organizations that serve the health and education needs of children. She has an M.A. in education, with a focus in child development.

Comments from readers

"Hi. I am hispanic woman and I have 2 children my oldest is 6 and attends first grade now, since Kindergarten she has been recognized as a 'kinesthetic learner' but the teacher also implied that she has some attention issues. The pediatrician told us to wait since she was only 5 years old. She was placed in an ELL program though she speaks english most of the time she does have knowlegde of spanish but is not as fluent as she is in english. My husband only speaks english. I do speak both at home but mostly english. So now the ELL teacher suggested that we should take her to the doctor again because even though she is not 'struggling' she fears that she might fall behind because it seems that she has a hard time staying focused and finishes her tasks poorly. Now, last year she learned to read really fast,she is a hands on learner and was at the end of first grade level reading at the end of kindergarten, this year at the first parents teacher conference,her teacher said that ! she is ok. What should we do? She is very active so her pediatrician told us that she is just an active child. We are considering getting an specialist to asses her but the ELL teacher told us to get the forms from the doctor's office which I did but honestly those forms come from the pharmaceutical offices,like seriously??? Don't get me wrong, I know there are children that need medication and those meds have helped children through decades but is there any other way to help my child besides considering drugs??? Because I have the sense that it will go down that road with us. What are the goals by the end of this year on the ELL program for first graders? She reads ,writes and speaks english, I would like to know the standars for her age. Plus she and other children from different ethnicities have been placed in the same classroom so it kind of puzzles me ,if they want them to learn the language properly wouldn't be fair for them to be mixed with the rest of the english sp! eakers??? "
" It's extremely critical to a student's academic success to define their early learning needs. There's no two ways about it, Hispanic students have different values, different parenting, and come from a culture where boys are favored and are excused from the menial tasks that girls are expected to do. It'll take time for the lives of these students to assimilate American traditions and their parents, most likely, never will. "